The Benign Coup

Last month's coup carried out in Pakistan by General Pervez Musharraf against the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is one of the most misunderstood and maligned coups in recent history. The western press has shed tears over the demise of democracy in Pakistan. However, Mervyn Dymally, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle on Oct 25th has put an inappropriate spin on this coup.

In his essay, which attempts to link the Pakistani coup with a perceived spread of terrorism, Dymally conveniently fails to recognize the role the United States has played in propping up illegitimate and corrupt Pakistani regimes. He fails to note that it was the United States that trained and encouraged fighters such as Osama Bin Laden in the first place. And he also overlooks the fact that Pakistan has steadfastly viewed the United States as its friend.

But the biggest failure of Dymally's piece is that it does not address the fact that it was the ill conceived policies of the United States during the decade-long rule of General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq that gave rise to the problems that Pakistan faces today. And the so-called "armed religious bands" are a holdover from the Afghan war. Dymally should lay the blame for the presence of these fighters at the door of the United States rather than lambasting the Pakistani military for their existence.

Instead Dymally would do well to examine the socio-economic factors currently weighing upon Pakistan. Today the country is in an economic tailspin. Years of economic mismanagement by Zia, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have left the country almost bankrupt. The final nail was driven by the sham democrat Shairf, who not only condoned writing off loans taken by his cronies, but himself defaulted on personal loans to the tune of Rs 12B ($2.5B). In addition, the building of the Motorway, dubbed Pakistan's white elephant, the freezing of foreign accounts in the wake of its recent nuclear test and the launch of a housing scheme prior to Sharif's dismissal, totally knocked the wind out of Pakistan's economy.

The merchant class to which Shairf belongs refused to pay their share of taxes while the feudals in government ensured that no bill passed through the assembly that taxed their revenues. People who voted for Sharif in the hope that being a businessman he would improve their lots in life, felt cheated, as both the economy and job opportunities shrank during his tenure while inflation sore to dizzying heights. This economic deterioration, in turn, led to a deterioration of law and order to an extent never before experienced in Pakistan's history.

On the political front, Sharif used his majority in the Assemblies to bulldoze constitutional amendments that stripped the President of power to dissolve the Assemblies. By letting his goons swoop on the Supreme Court, Sharif virtually subdued the Judiciary. And when the former Army Chief of Staff was dismissed for suggesting the formation of a National Security Council, Sharif's hold on all institutions of the state was complete.

The common people groaned as Sharif taxed the already overtaxed population while the bank defaulters and the corrupt made fortunes. In the few months before the coup, the Pakistani people had started protesting and requesting that the army step in. When the army did make its move, there were few tears shed for Sharif and his autocratic, overtly corrupt, unpopular regime.

Dymally should ask himself what good is democracy if it is a sham or a dictatorship. If he is so concerned about establishing democracy, then why doesn't he advise the United States not to support the monarchies and dictatorships in the world, especially the Middle East. The question is: Why should a benign military rule in which the press is free and the courts function, frighten the likes of Dymally?

General Pervez Musharraf and his team are no ascetics or fanatics, as portrayed by Dymally. They are definitely nationalistic. But their views are reflective of the aspirations of the people of Pakistan who want not only economic betterment but also a resolution of the Kashmir dispute and peaceful relations with India.

Pakistan is a small country trying to survive in this world. It has no aspirations of taking on anyone, as Dymally suggests. The focus of the Generals and the common people is to make the country strong economically and to live in harmony with its neighbors. It is time that people like Dymally realize that Pakistan's future is inextricably linked with the stability of that region and that their insinuations about Pakistan's intentions are just a figment of their fertile imaginations.

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